LONDON — Damn, London, you invigorating beast. It’s not enough for you to spend most any summer Sunday breathing with rare cosmopolitan force. No, you had to spend the Sunday just gone by on a trick truly herculean — that of outdoing yourself.
Somehow, even as Soho and Hyde Park and Oxford Street and all else heaved with humanity per usual, you managed to find room in your great big confines for two sporting events of mass hyperventilation. By dusk, people had begun processing what happened in your southwest and your northwest: a Wimbledon men’s singles final impossible to process and a Cricket World Cup final that might take weeks to even begin to process.
Here on one Sunday came the longest singles final in Wimbledon history and a cricket final everybody began describing as the most spellbinding ever beheld. Had such double drama stemmed from football (“soccer”), the runaway king of sports around here, it might have capsized the metropolis.
It’s hard to know what to say. Maybe: Thanks for the smashing Sunday?
Anyone who spent Sunday wandering from St. John’s Wood in the northwest around Lord’s Cricket Ground, southeast into Mayfair, then east-southeast across Central London and into Trafalgar Square would warrant a one-word description: lucky. The trail brimmed with a dose of cricket verve, a pinch of Wimbledon heaven and, finally, back to cricket, a heap of the kind of frenzy that only London seems to notch.
It had 1 p.m. sidewalks rich in India and Pakistan cricket fans, never mind the technicality that neither India nor Pakistan had reached the final between England and New Zealand, which had seemed to drain a lot of the gusto. Yet many came out and got close to the ground because they love cricket, and they sought tickets three hours into the match — one of those rational cricket details generally baffling to Americans. After all, New Zealand, batting first, was still batting by 1, and the wretched, beautiful tension wouldn’t come until England spent the late-afternoon hours chasing whatever score New Zealand could muster. Neither side had ever won a World Cup.
Yet by 3, you, London, went ahead and granted one of any great city’s best possibilities: serendipity. Any nomad straying into Mayfair might have spotted a long and oddball queue (“line”) forming outside an electricity substation and leading toward a staircase. The people queued because there’s a park on the roof of the structure. They queued because that park had installed a big screen. They queued because that screen showed Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer.
The line budged occasionally, as the park can hold only 250, and a sole, yeoman park “doorman” managed the main rule: one out, one in, three out, three in and so on. The wait wore on — 45 minutes, then 50 — yet it reinforced a global truth: The ultimate home team on Earth remains Roger Federer. Scoreboards ought to list his homeland as “Earth.”
It grew possible almost — almost — to keep score by listening. If the crowd upstairs cheered, that must be a Federer point. If it hushed, that would be a Djokovic point. Persistent silence: maybe two Djokovic points. A mass gasp: a Federer error.
Well, if there’s a heaven, it might resemble that rooftop, with its views of beautiful architecture, its fine green lounge chairs, its riveting match on the screen, its prosecco stand (!) offering the nectar at an unreasonable yet totally reasonable five pounds ($6.29) per flute. The match dazzled. Federer-lovers waited in the loo lines and cringed. The third-set tiebreaker tilted to Djokovic.
He led two sets to one, and New Zealand had scored a healthy 241, and England had gone into its chase.
So it came time to check on England, best done pub to pub to pub. In a pub in Mayfair, England had reached 71 for 3 (wickets). By the time of a pub in Soho, it had veered into peril at 86 for 4 after England’s Eoin Morgan went out on Lockie Ferguson’s diving catch. That got reviewed via that key player in 21st-century sports: video. Yes, out. A check of Wimbledon: Djokovic, with a break in the fifth.
With Wimbledon clearly decided, Trafalgar Square and its England watch party lured. Soon, with thousands watching under still-blue skies, with the top of the London Eye winking down the street, England would need 61 runs from 42 balls (seven overs), then 53 from 36 balls, then 46 from 30. It felt unbearable. A broadcaster calling the match blared, “Can you score 38 in 21 when the pitch is dying?” The American response: I have little clue what that means, but I’d like to see the attempt.
It got to the desperate point where England needed 22 from nine balls while New Zealand bowled masterfully. New Zealand, the proud, wee, gorgeous land of 4.8 million, could almost taste the World Cup, almost touch it, almost feel it. Defeat would require cruelty.
In cricket nightmares, surely, you make a skillful and clutch catch, and your first foot comes down just swell, and your back foot comes down onto the boundary rope. Instead of a surging batsman like England’s Ben Stokes going out, Trent Boult’s one fractious foot means six runs and Stokes’s continuance. And in cricket nightmares, England needs a daunting nine runs with three balls left, and Stokes tries to stretch the third-to-last ball of the match for two runs. He dives. You throw. Somehow, of all the damned sports things ever, it caroms accidentally off his bat and rolls to the boundary for another six runs, rolling and rolling as if along the landscape of a nightmare.
After a World Cup lasting seven weeks and a final lasting eight hours, England squeezed two runs from its very last two balls, matched New Zealand’s 241 and forced a “super over” to decide the tiny difference between ecstasy and lifelong wincing. On sidewalks thickened with people in the jammed square, even the cricket intellectuals didn’t quite know the contours of a super over, other than it seemed both super and an over (six balls).
Each side batted, in reverse order of all day. England got a hefty 15 runs. New Zealand got to 14 with one ball left, but it had to get to 16 to win because of a byzantine tiebreaker, and Martin Guptill got one and lunged for two but, as in cricket nightmares, came up hauntingly short when Jason Roy threw to Jos Buttler, who smashed the stumps.
In New Zealand, it was after 6 on Monday morning. The New Zealand Herald headline (with “ODI” meaning a one-day international match): “End of the World! NZ hearts broken in greatest ever ODI. Black Caps lose by zero runs.”
Repeat: lose by zero runs.
In London, England exulted, and the populous cricket minority daydreamed of kids taking the streets, hoping to become Stokes someday. London had out-Londoned London, with an event so spellbinding that it had been possible to forget to check on the formality of Djokovic’s fait accompli.
Somehow, even Wimbledon, about eight miles southwest, had gotten so much more complicated toward its ending, so impossibly rich in gasps, on a Sunday inconceivable even in London.